A picturesque pool nestled among unpopulated hillsides is where a male figure can swimming underwater. He is being watched by an observer in a suit. The scene is David Hockney at his best. Portrait of an artist (Pool featuring Two Figures). , a painting that sold to Christie’s for $90.3m. That’s a record for a live artist’s work.
Hockney is the name that makes the biggest splash when it involves the swimming pool. Apart from his iconic Flash paintings, works like Peter Get Out of Nick’s Pool (1966), which show an obsession with the figure in water, that includes everything from drowning Pre­Raphaelite maidens and Renaissance nymphs. Themes of swimming and submergence are also a popular theme among contemporary painters, which is why they are exploring a wide variety of styles.

Katherine Bradford from New York has been incorporating swimmers onto her colourful, semi-abstract canvases since the beginning of her 10-year-old career. “There are many visual connections between the way water looks and the paint that goes on a canvas,” says the artist of 79 years. “The most remarkable and most mysterious effect of seeing something under water is the transparency.”

There are many visual connections to how water looks, and how paint goes onto a canvas.
Hockney said that Bradford’s approach matches Hockney’s, but her work is dreamlike. Her work borders on cosmic. Some characters appear to hover in watery plains, while others appear like they fly.

Bradford spoke out about her upcoming show Night Swimming. It will be open at Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo, February. I find it tempting to immerse a swimmer under stars and planets in the beautiful light hitting water.

Night swimmers appear in Jonathan Wateridge’s recent luminous or languid paintings. Two of these paintings were included in the Hayward Gallery exhibition Blending It Up. Painting Today. In these paintings the pool is used to signify Western privilege or affluence. “I wanted to create my own environment. I also wanted the paintings to portray that artificiality.”

It is remarkable that Wateridge’s 2019 gallery at TJ Boulting featured the title This Side of Paradise. This name was inspired by F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920 debut novel. Although Wateridge’s paintings are filled with images of Californian pool parties, the atmosphere in which they were created is sinister and haunting.

Water is rich symbolism, both in literature and in art. Its meaning ranges between womb-like security, biblical rebirth and a sense of movement to foreboding to danger. Bradford points out that English is stuffed with a rich swimming vocabulary. It acts as a constant metaphor to describe how one might move through life, whether it be diving, floating drowning or wading.

Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze a Nigerian artist living in Philadelphia, depicts swimmers, divers and pool as part of an abstract visual language. It uses seven recurring symbols to build collage-like compositions with paper, using seven different motifs. While she believes that her diving characters are an expression of her “continuous obsession with flying”, the swimmers in her work denote her desire to be “inside water”.

By Londyn